'An insult to democracy': Officer of suspended Labour branch speaks out

This episode is not about “conduct unbecoming".

Following Brighton and Hove Independent's exclusive disclosure that the Labour Party has suspended the local branch party in one of its staunchest strongholds, DAVID BUTLER, vice-chair of Moulsecoomb and Bevendean Branch Labour Party, gives his view.

This episode is not about “conduct unbecoming". Ray Metcalfe, a long-time Labour Party member and resident of Moulsecoomb, pinned precisely the context of the persecution of Councillor Farrow in comments reported by Brighton and Hove Independent.

“Here we go again,” Mr Metcalfe said in an email to party colleagues. “After the slurs against Anne Meadows when she finished her stint as mayor, we had the farcical election for the prospective candidates for the Moulsecoomb and Bevendean ward, where it was obvious the executive committee was trying to shoehorn in their preferred choice at the expense of Mo Marsh. Now it is Leigh Farrow in the firing line."

The hit list of targets irking the City Party leadership has expanded to include the whole of the Moulsecoomb and Bevendean branch - whose treasonable offence apparently was to show solidarity with their councillor, against an action of such grossly-prejudicial de-selection without trial as to be reminiscent of a 17th-century witch-hunt.

What conduct, the seditious ward members dared to ask, was so abject as to justify the effective expulsion of an elected Labour councillor? Cllr Farrow admits to swearing in the presence of two party colleagues. The paper-thin pretext cited in the letters of indictment and the extreme nature of the penalty decreed, after the ward’s refusal to concede to summary justice, suggests an ulterior motive.

Even if a few salty profanities were uttered among comrades in a private meeting, in a time of budget cuts deeply affecting the residents of Labour wards, this disproportionate reaction to a minor infraction of protocol is an exercise of arbitrary authority by a leadership cabal in Brighton and Hove District Labour Party.

Much more serious than the alleged offence is the arrogant abuse of power by the party’s executive committee as part of an ongoing campaign to marginalise all internal opposition and to monopolise decision-making, policy positions, and the selection of candidates.

The real story in this autarchic de-selection of a popular sitting councillor is the bloodless coup by the Progress faction - dubbed by the GMB as a party within a party - whose members dominate the leadership of the City Party.

The Militant Tendency was ousted with gusto by Neil Kinnock in 1985. Some 30 years on, coming from the right wing rather than the far left, the Progress faction is a self-declared militantly "moderate" tendency.

My objection - and that of many others frustrated with the quietism of the present shadow front bench, and to the influence of this New Labour rump is that their idea of progress is more of the same, with only marginal shifts to accommodate their stewardship of the reins of power.

At the local level, "Progress Labour" are not doctrinally opposed to privatisation or outsourcing, or to swingeing budget cuts to essential services. Which is to say they are in favour.

Nor, regrettably, are they committed to defend social housing or resist the general assault on living standards, or workplace protections, or speak up for state investment in education and social care and infrastructure that would promote real growth in the real economy.

It is fair and accurate to suppose that most of the people around Progress are truly conservative. The prototype of the City Party is a business model of so-called "flat" or frictionless structures, the purpose of which is to smooth the centralisation of all meaningful authority and to remove any and all residual pockets of resistance through the imposition of unitary functions.

Applied to a political organisation, the democratic centralist logic – otherwise known as Stalinism - is plain enough: remove or disempower the branches, taking all instruments of patronage to the centre.

The stakes for Labour members in Brighton and Hove are high. Nobody on the Left can want another right-wing government next year. Only slightly worse than that prospect, however, is a minority Labour administration married to the reactionary nostrums of the past and too timid to root out the rot of neo-liberalism.

Toward the possibility of a popular mandate for a re-dedicated commitment to social democracy, the citywide machinery of Brighton and Hove Labour is one obstacle that should be destroyed and replaced by a properly collectivist alternative. Such as the one wrecked by the current leadership in 2012.

For articles related to the Labour controversy, visit:

The City Party;

Officer of suspended Labour Party branch speaks out;

‘An insult to democracy’ – Labour Party suspends local branch party;

Labour members stand by Councillor Leigh Farrow;

Labour’s ‘witch-hunt’ against party veteran;

Councillor Mo Marsh wins Labour selection run-off;

War of words in Labour selection re-run;

Furore over Labour's botched attempt to 'fix' safe seat.

External links:

The Argus (August 16): Labour deny suspension of Leigh Farrow from Brighton and Hove City Council;

Brighton and Hove News (August 16): Grassroots party members stand by suspended Labour councillor;

Brighton and Hove News (August 14): Labour members in Moulsecoomb and Bevendean urged to join discussion on suspended councillor;

Brighton and Hove News (August 2): Labour suspends Brighton and Hove councillor;

Brighton and Hove News (April 9): Brighton councillor wins selection run-off;

Brighton and Hove News (March 27): Potential Brighton Labour candidate accused of sending misleading email;

Brighton and Hove News (March 21): Furore over Labour’s botched attempt to ‘fix’ safe Brighton seat;

Brighton and Hove News (March 14): Former Albion chief to stand for Labour in Brighton and Hove council elections.